Arkansas Senate Approves Bill To Hide Identity Of Execution Drug Suppliers

The Arkansas Death Chamber where lethal injection drugs are administered to inmates sentenced to death.
Credit Arkansas Department of Correction

The state Senate on Monday easily approved a bill that would further veil the confidentiality of the lethal drugs used to execute Arkansas inmates on death row.

Under Senate Bill 464 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, the legislature would give the state Department of Corrections broad powers to conceal the state’s method of capital punishment and ability to acquire the drugs necessary for lethal injection. The bill was approved by a vote of 25-9 strictly along party lines with one lawmaker, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, voting present.

In the details of the four-page bill that is opposed by state Freedom of Information Act advocates and death penalty opponents, Hester clearly spelled out why the lawmakers are taking the extra step to ensure the confidentiality of ADC’s provision of drugs used for lethal injections.

“Anti-death-penalty advocates have pressured pharmaceutical companies to refuse to supply the drugs used by states to carry out death sentences,” the bill states. “The Department of Correction is unable to acquire the necessary drugs used to carry out lethal injections due to the lack of effective confidentiality regarding the manufacturers, suppliers, and others involved in the provision of lethal injunction drugs.”

After a string of highly-publicized executions in the summer of 2017, state Correction officials acquired a new supply of midazolam, the controversial sedative that is part of the state’s three-drug execution protocol. Vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer that causes paralysis, is the second drug used in ADC’s execution protocol, while potassium chloride stops the heart and causes death.

In late 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled that ADC officials must provide Little Rock attorney Steven Shults with the pharmaceutical package inserts and labels for its supply of midazolam, one of the drugs in the state’s execution protocol. That came after the state high court halted a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Mackie Pierce that the legislature could not shield information about the drugs used to carry out executions.

Although the state doesn’t have a new slate of scheduled executions, the supply of lethal injection drugs expired in early January, according to the Associated Press. Under SB 464, any person that “recklessly discloses” documents or records concerning the state’s capital punishment procedures involving lethal injection drugs directly or indirectly “is guilty of a Class D felony,” the bill states.

In a brief discussion of SB 464, Hester clarified that only the identity of drugmakers that manufacture lethal injection drugs would be concealed under the new legislation. “It is only the manufacturer’s identity that we are keeping private. The actual drug is made public, and we know what the drugs are,” he said.

The bill will now move to the House Judiciary Committee.